*In search of an honest debate

IN SEARCH OF AN HONEST DEBATE…. President Obama hosted the nation’s governors in the East Room this morning, and, among other things, announced that $15 billion to cover states’ Medicaid costs would begin reaching capitals this week. The result is 20 million Americans nationwide who’ll be able to keep their coverage.

But towards the end of his remarks, the president stopped looking at his notes and started responding directly to some of the recent talk about some governors rejecting some federal stimulus aid. Most notably, Govs. Jindal, Sanford, and Barbour have raised concerns about unemployment benefits for part-time workers.

Obama didn’t mention any names, but he nevertheless made clear that now would be a very good time for everyone to cut the nonsense.

“I think there are some very legitimate concerns on the part of some about the sustainability of expanding unemployment insurance. What hasn’t been noted is that that is $7 billion of a $787 billion program. And it’s not even the majority of the expansion of unemployment insurance,” Obama said. The president added, “If we agree on 90 percent of this stuff, and we’re spending all our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent of the spending in this thing, and somehow it’s being characterized in broad brush as ‘wasteful spending,’ that starts sounding more like politics. And that’s what right now we don’t have time to do.”

Obama went on to say, “I will always be open to honest disagreements, and I think that there are some legitimate concerns that can be raised on a whole host of these issues. You’re responsible at the state level. If the federal government gives you something now, and then two years later it’s gone, and people are looking to you and starting to blame you, I don’t want to put you in that position. You need to think about how this money’s going to be spent wisely.

“What I don’t want us to do, though, is just get caught up in the same old stuff…. There’s going to be ample time for campaigns down the road. Right now, we’ve got to make sure we’re standing up for the American people and putting them back to work.”

He wasn’t calling out Jindal, Sanford, and Barbour specifically, but the message was hard to miss. Obama wants to engage in an “honest debate” — he used the phrase a few times this morning — and some Republicans with their sights on 2012 aren’t offering one.

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